We got experts to weigh-in on how classic personality traits translate to remote work.
The shift to remote work has given many of us a new perspective on how we do our jobs. Without the context of a shared workspace or the rhythm of a typical office day, our own personalities are having far more of a say in our performance.
It follows, then, that the best way to maximize our output in a WFH environment is to better know our personalities – and those of our dispersed colleagues.
An efficient (and intriguing) way to manage this personality wrangling is via the tried-and-tested Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Generally regarded as one of the most accurate personality tests out there, the MBTI is widely applied within the business world, with 89 of the Fortune 100 companies utilising it.
“The MBTI is deceptively simple, but it’s also an extremely useful way to see how team members are inherently different, and how you can work together more successfully,” says occupational psychologist John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at the Myers-Briggs Company. “It’s a means to boost productivity in people, increasing their engagement and making them generally happier in their work.”
In other words, the MBTI might just be the key to turning your remote team into a smooth autonomous unit.
The 16 personality types and their traits
Based on Carl Jung’s Theory of Psychological Types, the MBTI is a self-reported personality survey that has been around in various shapes and forms since the 1940s. Respondents answer a series of simple questions about their feelings and preferences, eventually aligning with one of 16 personality types.
Each of these types is identified by four letters, starting with an E or an I (for extrovert/introvert) followed by S or N (sensibility/intuition), T or F (thinking/feeling), and finally a J or a P (judgment/perception). Each type also has a descriptor, e.g., “the analyst,” to further characterize the personality type in action.
Once you know your team members’ types, the thinking goes, you can better assign them to projects which match their preferences, proficiency, and proclivities. You can also communicate more effectively if you have a better idea of how people process information.
To get started, take the official Myers-Briggs test here (or try a similar free questionnaire, recommended by psychologists here), then check out our expert guidance below on how to work with each personality type.
1. ISTJ: responsible realists
Who they are: dutiful doers who appreciate clarity, love routines, and believe in values like honor, hard work and social responsibility. They’re quiet, reserved and reliable. The Queen of England is an archetypal ISTJ.
How to work with them: “This personality type is incredibly well organized, which is a major asset in a remote working environment,” says psychologist and business coach Rosie Peacock, CEO of Conscious Enterprise. “They don’t need much management or checking up on, just email them a to-do list at the start of the week, and you can trust them to quietly get on with it. They’d also be the perfect type to organize and streamline any shared space online, from Dropbox to Google Docs.”
2. INFJ: insightful visionaries
Who they are: Principled creatives who are quietly forceful but also intuitive about people and concerned about their colleagues’ feelings. They tend to be deep thinkers with bags of ideas.
How to work with them: “The entire hiring process is considerably more difficult in a remote world, but Advocates can be an ace up your sleeve,” says Peacock. “They tend to be excellent judges of character, so it would be a major asset to have them sit in on virtual interviews. Just don’t put them center stage in any Zoom meetings if you can avoid it: they don’t thrive on attention, and work far better behind the scenes.”
3. INTJ: conceptual planners
Who they are: Perfectionist innovators who are comfortable alone and thrive in a remote work environment. People with this personality type are natural problem solvers who are great at taking an idea and turning it into a plan of action. They’re a dual threat: skilled at both intuitive and practical thinking.
How to work with them: “This group is usually more comfortable communicating by text, so they’ll often need to be nudged into picking up the phone or jumping on a Zoom call when it’s more beneficial,” says Hackston of the Myers-Briggs Company. “They’re extremely deadline-focused, but there’s also a danger they can rush to hasty decisions, particularly without colleagues nearby to check their impulses. Sometimes INTJs need to be reminded to stop for a second, take their time, and let ideas germinate, rather than just rushing straight at them.”
4. ISFJ: practical helpers
Who they are: The most extroverted of the introverts, ISFJs prioritise harmony and co-operation, have a strong work ethic, and are sensitive to colleagues’ wishes and feelings. But there is steel behind their zeal: they tend to be extremely conscientious workers who are natural managers, capable of keeping remote teams bonded and happy.
How to work with them: “ISFJs display incredible attention to detail, so they’re great for checking over others’ work, editing shared documents or looking over pitches and proposals at the final stage,” says Peacock. “They’re also very good at following rules and inspiring others to do the same, so put them in charge of any time tracking software you use – and watch them increase the efficiency of the entire team.”
5. ISTP: logical pragmatists
Who they are: These are direct, to-the-point characters, who are loyal to their peers but not overly concerned with laws and rules. ISTPs are the most unpredictable of the 16 personality types, because they’re typically rational and logical, but can also be enthusiastic and spontaneous.
How to work with them: Virtuosos will likely feel the impact of missed day-to-day interactions with their teams most of all, so they’ll benefit from scheduled one-on-one digital meetings to maintain drive and focus. “ISTPs tend to excel at troubleshooting, so in a remote work environment they can be a major tech asset,” says Peacock. “They’re very good at test driving new tools and navigating software, but they also lose focus easily. They’re the team member most likely to turn off their camera in a meeting, open another window and start surfing the net – so they do need to be managed.”
6. ISFP: versatile supporters
Who they are: Sensitive doers who thrive when creating for others, Adventurers are warm, approachable, friendly and averse to confrontation. They also see the value of exploring new things and discovering new experiences.
How to work with them: “This group like to live in the moment and can become completely wrapped up in their work,” says Peacock. “Working from home and without colleagues physically monitoring them, they can burn out quite easily, so need to be reminded to take an hour for lunch and finish the working day at a reasonable time. Their energy is an asset, but it sometimes needs to be harnessed and directed in the right direction by others.”
7. INFP: thoughtful idealists
Who they are: Laidback idea-people with a well-developed value system, INFPs can often get lost in their imaginations and daydreams. While they bring intensity and enthusiasm to projects, they often find it challenging to sustain their excitement for long periods of time.
How to work with them: “This type tends to have very deep-seated values, which can cause problems because frustrations can stew when they’re offended,” says Hackston. “This is amplified when working remotely as grievances can linger for longer, so managers need to encourage them to get any concerns out into the open. Otherwise, the key to getting the best out of this group is to encourage and reinforce meaning in their work.” In other words, if their projects align with their values, this group can be an unstoppable force.
8. INTP: objective analysts
Who they are: Renegade problem solvers who love patterns, are quick to notice discrepancies, and cherish competence and logic. They thrive off being alone and will enjoy lockdown more than any other type. Albert Einstein is the archetypal INTP.
How to work with them: “This type really needs to be given the freedom to do things in an original way, and to be listened to, because they come up with the smartest solutions,” says Peacock.
“Their weak spot is that they often neglect to share decisions and solutions, and that trait can become even more pronounced when working from home,” adds Hackston. If there’s an INTP on your team, encourage them to use shared documents and software as much as possible. A tool like Confluence, for example, would be ideal.
9. ESTP: energetic problem solvers
Who they are: Risk takers who thrive on solving big problems at a fast pace. They’re passionate about their pursuits but can also get impatient with longer-term projects as they suffer from short attention spans. Entrepreneurs can be a major asset to any team, but they can also be hard to manage because they’re not particularly respectful of rules.
How to work with them: The solution here is simple – keep things fun and keep them moving fast. “This personality type is classically impatient, so give them a day’s worth of tasks in a project tool rather than any long-term targets,” says Peacock. “They’re also often very good at firefighting, because the thrill of the moment is exciting to them. As a general rule, Entrepreneurs are great at thinking outside the box, so don’t put them inside one by stifling their creativity.”
10. ESFP: enthusiastic improvisers
Who they are: The life and soul of the workplace, this personality type likes to show up and show off. They’re energetic, enthusiastic, and natural performers who often end up in creative or artistic professions. But while they love the spotlight they’re also sympathetic, warm, and generous.
How to work with them: “Entertainers need to be given time to sparkle in front of others, so remote working can drain them,” says Peacock. “Wherever possible, get them involved in videos, voiceovers, podcasts, or any project that involves creative performance. They’ll also be superb in remote pitches, as they’ll bring a persuasive energy which could otherwise be lacking via computer screen.”
11. ENFP: imaginative motivators
Who they are: Perceptive people-pleasers, who love to experiment and explore. Campaigners have a strong, intuitive nature and like to be around others, operating from feelings above logic. Crucially, they are motivated more by heartfelt goals than by money.
How to work with them: “This group excels at both idea-generation and collaborative projects, so they’d be a major asset in brainstorming sessions and any big picture thinking,” says Hackston. “Their weakness is that they’re not the best starter-finishers, so deadlines can be an issue. That can be exacerbated when working remotely, when they don’t always see messages or respond quickly enough to colleagues. As a result, they often need gently managing in order to realize their high creative value.”
12. ENTP: enterprising explorers
Who they are: Charismatic intellectuals who enjoy pulling strings, many CEOs slot into this group. This personality type is logical, rational and objective but needs constant mental stimulation. Often leaders and managers, they prefer to focus on big ideas and resist repetitive tasks and routines.
How to work with them: Predictably, Debaters are very good at debating, so play to their strengths. “This group tends to be great on new ideas and products, as well as bigger discussions about how to move the business forward,” says Peacock. “They’re also adept at impressing clients and pitching for new business, so you want them on any game-changing Zoom calls. You just might need to remind them to mute themselves occasionally, because, if unchecked, they may dominate conversation.”
13. ESTJ: efficient organisers
Who they are: Also nicknamed The Guardian, this type is made up of pragmatic decision-makers who are traditional, organized, hard-working, methodical and loyal. If your business was a sports team, they’d be the veteran captain.
How to work with them: “This group loves to organize themselves, other people, and the world around them, which can be an asset but can also come across as bossy and aggressive – particularly when they’re dishing out instructions without any face-to-face contact,” says Hackston. “They often need to be reminded to be tactful with others, particularly in an environment where they’re primarily communicating via email or messaging apps, leaving their sentences open to greater interpretation.”
14. ESFJ: supportive contributors
Who they are: Nurturing caregivers who thrive on serving the collective. This group are sociable, kind, and considerate – and will typically put others’ needs first. They’ll be the ones messaging colleagues directly to check on their wellbeing, while trying to organize online quizzes and virtual happy hours.
How to work with them: “This is the personality type who make the best project managers, because people love working for them,” says Peacock. “They’re organized, as well as thoughtful, so are ideal for bringing projects together on time. Thanks to their caring, patient nature, they’d also be a strong choice for remote onboarding new starters.”
15. ENFJ: compassionate facilitators
Who they are: Another group of natural leaders, but unlike their ENTP colleagues, this cadre is driven more by intuition and feelings than logic and rationality. If they’re managers, they’re the inspirational type: extremely driven but also extremely empathetic to the needs of those around them. Both Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama are classic ENFJs.
How to work with them: People-focused diplomats, this group tends to forget their own needs in favor of the greater good, and that can sometimes be detrimental – not just in terms of burnout, but also when completing their own tasks. However, with this group, the positives vastly outweigh any negatives.
“It’s always a good idea to have Protagonists lead group discussions, even if they’re not in a leadership role, because they excel at it,” says Peacock. “They should be your go-to Zoom meeting host, and at the heart of any situation involving discussion, consensus, and the bringing together of people and ideas.”
16. ENTJ: decisive strategists
Who they are: Logical planners who love breaking down boundaries and identifying solutions. They value knowledge and have little patience with inefficiency. Above all, they are about goal-setting, structure, and organization. They are generally charismatic and confident, and can motivate others behind a common goal.
How to work with them: “This type naturally likes big pictures and big decisions, and that can create problems when working from home,” says Hackston. “They don’t always see the finer details when implementing plans, and in a remote working environment, that puts them at greater risk of pushing through decisions without properly taking in the views of others. To truly excel, ENTJs need to remember the necessary balance between directing and consulting.”